Redfin launched the real estate consumer’s bill of rights today, which Inman News is blasting out to its hundreds of thousands of real estate subscribers some time this morning. The premise of the bill is that consumers should have all the information the agent does about a house they’re trying to buy or sell, and about how the whole process works. Nearly a dozen Redfinners worked on it, from real estate operations, engineering and marketing.
Now we’re trying to recruit other brokers and real estate bigshots to support this idea. So consumers can get in on the act, we’ve also started a petition that we plan to send to the National Association of Realtors and to all the local MLSs to which we belong; we hope you’ll sign it.
Maybe this can become a movement. Maybe real estate really can get better. The last time I circulated a petition, it was to get my beautiful but cruel high school French teacher fired, which involved premature exposure, humiliation, a year of intricate recriminations, and a very poor participation grade. Read the rights, and let us know if you think this stands a better chance.
- Choose the services you pay for: Laws in more than a dozen states forbid brokers from refunding commissions to you, or require brokers to provide services you may not want to pay for. These laws protect the industry, not the consumer.
- Know how your agent makes his money: In real estate, the seller pays both his own agent and the buyer’s agent a percentage of the sale; the agent earns more when his client pays more. If a house seems difficult to sell, the seller may even offer buyers’ agents an especially high percentage. Buyers’ agents should be required to explain to their clients how they are paid.
- Know when you are committed to an agent: Often just showing a property entitles an agent to the commission for representing you, regardless of whether you intended to work with someone else or even preferred to represent yourself. The relationship between an agent and a consumer should always be explicit, so that both parties know when they’re committed to one another.
- Know what services your agent will provide: Much of the work of a buyer’s agent begins after the buyer has agreed to buy a house. This work includes coordinating inspections, repairs, mortgages, title reviews and escrow services. But agents today are paid only to bring a buyer to a transaction. Once that happens, it is virtually impossible to fire your agent. In most cases, this is appropriate, as the agent who puts a deal together deserves the commission. But in becoming committed to an agent, you should know what services the agent will provide as part of that commitment and what recourse you have if the agent doesn’t perform those services. An open agreement between you and the agent protects the agent from being unfairly dismissed, and ensures you get the service you expect through closing.
- Have an agent that represents only your interests: Most states allow real estate agents to represent the buyer and seller in one transaction, and get both sides of a commission. As a result, some sellers’ agents are on the prowl for unrepresented buyers to bring to the seller. It’s a solicitation neither side can easily refuse because the seller wants the buyer and the buyer wants the house. But an agent can’t fairly represent the interests of two parties to the same transaction. An agent should represent only one party, and take commissions for only one party.
- Know the commission refund you can get before you buy a house: Depending on the service provided by the buyer’s agent, some sellers vary the commission offered to buyers’ agents. This flexibility is good in theory, but in practice it’s often used to thwart commission refunds: buyers expecting a refund of $10,000 or more from their agent discover on making an offer that the amount has been radically reduced in favor of the seller’s agent. Buyers should know in advance what circumstances let the seller’s agent keep more of a commission for himself. It’s fine to change the price but not at the cash register.
- See all the houses for sale: Many of the multiple listing services set up to share listings between brokerages forbid participating websites from displaying for-sale-by-owner houses alongside broker-listed houses. As a result, home buyers usually don’t see all the houses for sale, and home sellers have to hire brokers just to get their house on mainstream sites. MLSs should not require exclusive display of listings.
- Have an open discussion about a house for sale: On the web, you can openly discuss almost any product for sale except a house. That’s because sellers’ agents “own the listing,” controlling where and how it’s posted for their benefit. The rules of some MLSs discourage real estate websites from publishing independent reviews and preclude owners from distributing MLS marketing materials outside MLS-sanctioned websites. Once a house is for sale, everyone in the market should be able to discuss it.
- See all the information available about a house for sale: Many MLSs make it difficult for buyers to see recent past sales data, how long a house has been for sale, or whether its price has been reduced. Once a house is for sale, you should be able to see all the information available about it on your own, without becoming anyone’s client. The only exception to this rule is information whose publication jeopardizes the seller’s safety, such as when the presence of children precludes a showing.
- Be sure your agent will show your house to everyone: Some sellers’ agents selectively refuse to show houses to a buyer represented by an alternative brokerage, which hurts the seller and the buyer. If, as part of his service, a seller’s agent doesn’t show houses to all buyers, the seller should know it, and the buyer should be able to contact the seller directly. When agents don’t facilitate showing a house, they should at least stand aside and let buyers see the house on their own.
OK, now you can go hogwild with the comments…